Essential College Skills: Using the Voice of Others – Information Literacy and Credible Sources

College research papers combine credible sources and the writer's opinion. It can be tricky to balance the two voices, especially for new college students still learning the mechanics of college-level writing. Develop an idea, create an outline, research sources, and write carefully. With practice, blending your ideas with credible research will get easier. Here are three tips to get you started.

Think outside the Internet

Thanks to the internet, searching virtually any topic can be easy. Your favorite search engine can find pages (possibly hundreds of thousands) of documents which contain your search terms. But, there's a catch. Differentiating between credible and non-credible research can be a challenge. Bloggers with an opinion on a topic aren't always qualified experts worthy of a citation in your paper. You may find reports or studies with statistics that aren't backed with proper authorization, are invalid, outdated, or are so biased the findings are useless. How can you be certain the information is credible and safe to use in your paper? Look for research on credible websites, such as .edu or .gov sites. Academic reports, studies featured in medical journals, trade journals, or other media, and published studies are probably OK. But be cautious of any content that seems too one-sided or is presented anonymously. If possible, look for a second source that confirms the findings or the original study. 

Don't be afraid to think beyond the Internet. Visit your campus library and use its books and databases for quick access to credible sources. The library subscribes to databases specifically for access to credible journals and reports. 

Cite your sources

Borrowing a source's ideas, reinterpreting the information, and putting it in your own words is great. It can be exciting to learn something new and make discoveries about a topic. However, writers must be careful to properly credit sources when credit is due. It is dishonest to take someone else's words and claim them as your own. Academic plagiarism can be grounds for expulsion at the collegiate level. Avoid confusion by properly citing sources with direct quotations, by paraphrasing, and in your bibliography or list of sources. You do not need to cite universal ideas or common knowledge information that is widely available and isn't disputed. (For example, you don't need to cite your math textbook when stating that 2 + 2 = 4.)

Incorporate your own voice

The research you've found is credible and noteworthy, but those authors aren't writing your essay. You are. Make sure your written voice – the tone of the paper – is uniquely yours. Your personal opinion should shine through, especially in a persuasive essay when the grade issued will likely depend on how well your voice, supported by research, convinces the reader.